Scottish Castles Photo Library
- Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness

            Graphics copyright © Scotavia Images
Urquhart Castle
Situated on a promontory overlooking Loch Ness, there has been a fortification here since at least the times of the Picts. In the 6th century, while on his way to visit the Pictish King Brude, St Columba may have visited what became known as Urquhart Castle and converted Emchatu, a Pictish chieftain, to Christianity.

The name Urquhart originated from a place name "Airchart" on the northwest shore of Loch Ness (in the area in which Urquhart Castle is now located, although the Urquharts only occupied it briefly). Translated from Gaelic, it means "by a rowan wood" or "a fort on a knoll." In old Scots spelling, "quh" represented "ch" as in "loch", hence the pronunciation sounding like "Urchart".

The first stone-built castle known to be on the site was erected by the Durwards in the 13th century but it was probably the Comyns who added the main courtyard in the late 13th and early 14th century. Urquhart Castle was occupied by King Edward I of England in 1296 and changed hands between the Scots and the English several times until King Robert the Bruce captured it in 1308. Later, when Edward Balliol made his bid for the Scottish crown, supporters of the young King David II successfully defended the castle against Balliol and King Edward III of England.

In 1476, the castle was given to the Gordon Earl of Huntly but by 1509, King James IV granted the fortification to John Grant of Freuchie (in Fife), subject to him agreeing to improve its defences. It was probably the Grants who created the tower house, gatehouse and courtyard, the ruins of which we can see today. After King James IV was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, the MacDonald Lord of the Isles captured Urquhart Castle about two years later. They returned in 1545 and, along with Cameron of Lochiel, devastated the castle and the surrounding area. The destruction continued in 1644 when Urquhart Castle was sacked by the Covenanters.

Of course, important and strategic castles have a habit of being rebuilt. But although Urquhart Castle resisted the Jacobites in 1689, it was dismantled by the government a few years later in case the Jacobites returned (which they did, in 1715 and 1745). These days, despite its ruined appearance, it is one of the more popular tourist attractions in the area. Maybe that has to do with its convenient position on the main A82 road between Inverness and Fort William. In recent years, Historic Scotland have built a fine new visitor centre (and car park) with exhibition area and audio-visual display to cope with the large numbers who call each year (it is the third most visited Historic Scotland property). It was, after all, one of Scotland's largest fortifications - and the Loch Ness Monster is said to have been seen from its battlements on a number of occasions.

Note: The photos of Urquhart Castle on this page are courtesy of Scotavia Images who provide a quality aerial photography service for Scotland. Prints from their large online gallery are available for purchase. If you have ancestors with a Scottish Highland origin, they can provide an aerial view of the area they came from!

Urquhart Castle
Graphic copyright © Scotavia Images

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